Salon.com, my go-to news website, is hosting a series of articles from outside contributors, articles about having been bullied as children. I couldn’t wait to begin pouring through them, hoping to identify with others who’ve been through similar childhoods as me and to read how (if they did) they’d resolved these issues, because I still struggle with horrible memories from elementary, middle and high school. Then, I noted that they’d added an interesting twist: to “Interview Your Bully.” Yikes!
New Jersey recently enacted the toughest anti-bullying legislation in the U.S. in the wake of the suicide of Tyler Clementi, a Rutgers University student who wasn’t yet openly gay, yet some asshole decided to go public for him. And while I’m one hundred percent empathic toward ANYONE who’s picked on, most of my attention to this subject will be paid to the youngsters, those who have not yet reached puberty, because its at that age that victims of bullying feel the most helpless and an age when all that negative reinforcement (the name calling and avoidant social politics) creates very deep roots, sometimes impossible to sever.
Just this month, two 10-year-old girls — one in Illinois and another in North Carolina — committed suicide because of being severely bullied. The North Carolinian, Jasmine McClain, hung herself and was found by her mother just before her last breath. Her mom “had no clue her child was under so much emotional distress,” Clutch Magazine reported. I cried and cried. I remember the fifth grade. That’s the year it all went downhill for me.
For the Salon.com series, I wanted to interview my fifth grade bully. I wanted to ask her why she chose me to focus on and what I ever did to her (knowing it would be NOTHING), hoping to get an answer (“I was jealous of you,” “I had issues and took them out on you”) that would placate me. Well, I never did talk to her, but I did happen upon an explanation that not only soothed me, it made her behavior perfectly understandable. My oldest friend in the world — who is now a social worker with connections to all kinds of information about people’s dirty laundry, especially in the old neighborhood in Hamilton — told me a jaw-dropping story about my bully. She and I had recently reconnected after years of not seeing each other and during one of our first “catch-up sessions,” she dropped this one on me about my elementary school bully: She was being seriously abused at home. She was being sexually molested by an older relative, an uncle, which went on for many years. Now I think its common knowledge that bullies are usually bullied themselves and identify bullying acts as strengths, which will continue the cycle, but its a whole ‘nother thing to have it put your own bad memories in perspective. I instantly went from hating this person to truly empathizing with her. That poor girl. This was happening to her and she probably couldn’t tell anyone and was scared and angry all the time. She picked on someone she knew since pre-school, someone she knew was ultra-sensitive and wanted nothing more than to be accepted. That poor girl. Not me, but her.
I also learned that she’s had a pretty difficult life thus far: problems with drugs, problems raising her kids, etc. I wish I could talk to her and tell her that even if she can’t forgive herself, that I don’t hate her. Not anymore. I understand.
I probably won’t talk to her. Just like how I tried to contact one of my high school bullies — who made the transfer from one school to another in the middle of the 10th grade complete hell — and got some bullshit about her being busy with her daughter and that she won’t open “foreign links” via email (I sent the Salon.com “Interview Your Bully” guidelines) because she’s afraid of viruses: most folks won’t want to be confronted, even in an understanding way. But that’s okay. Its most important that I resolve all these feelings for myself, not necessarily with or through my former bullies.
Its important that we listen to today’s kids. Its a lot harder to be a kid nowadays. What would YOU do to help a kid?